Lake Mary Pop Warner Football wins the Super Bowl for Division 2 Pee Wee
Coach Ephraim Grubbs knew what the opponents of his Lake Mary Rams were thinking when they first caught a glimpse of his Pee Wee Pop Warner football team. It was obvious that his adversaries were almost always bigger, stronger, and faster than his boys, so he decided to use a bit of reverse psychology.
Whenever he had the chance, Coach E, as he’s known by the kids, would make sure his team’s opponents got a good look at his undersized players. He made those players highly visible during weigh-ins and practices, and anytime Coach E had the opportunity, he would parade them past their opponents.
“As soon as they saw us, we’d hear the snickers, we’d hear the comments,” Coach E says. “That’s when we knew we had an advantage, because they would overlook us because of our size.”
That’s just what happened at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in December, when Lake Mary captured its first national title at the 2019 Pop Warner Super Bowl. The Rams trounced their opponents from North Carolina – the bigger and faster Durham Eagles – by a score of 28-18 to claim the Division 2 Pee Wee (age 11-12) title.
“To make it to the National Championship and win it, it was just incredible,” Coach E says. “We weren’t supposed to win this game. We were so outmatched. But we just kept going; we just kept making plays.”
Coach E has developed several strategies and mantras during his 11 years as a Pop Warner youth football coach. He started coaching when his oldest son Leiph, now 23, was 12 years old and also coached sons Adam (19), Eli (15), and Noah (12), who was the starting quarterback on the 2019 Super Bowl Champion team.
One of those mantras goes like this:
Coach E: “They’re bigger than us!”
Coach E: “They’re stronger than us!”
Coach E: “They’re faster than us!”
Coach E: “But they are NOT better than us!”
The Rams took those strategies and mantras to heart. They bought in to the life lessons that were implemented by Coach E and his assistants. They worked hard, listened to their coaches, and “played a team sport as a team,” Coach E says.
During the regular season, Lake Mary was 7-1, losing only to its rival, the Ocoee Bulldogs. In the playoffs, the Rams beat teams from Sanford, Lake Brantley, Lehigh Acres, Tampa, and Jacksonville. At the Pop Warner Super Bowl, Lake Mary beat a team from the Chicago area, 30-8, and a team from Bridgeport, Connecticut, 30-0, to reach the championship game.
In the final, the Rams played a Durham team that was well-coached and well-organized and featured one player who was North Carolina’s 100-meter state champion in his age group. But the Rams had some weapons of their own, notably a sophisticated offense that included 127 different plays.
In addition to his dedicated players, Coach E also credits his coaches, who put in countless volunteer hours analyzing videos, preparing strategies, and organizing practices. The team’s coaches included offensive coordinator Tyson Hinshaw, a former Lake Mary High and University of Central Florida quarterback; defensive coordinator Andy Becker, who played football at Lake Brantley High and Furman University; Lyman graduate Tom Lorenz; Lake Brantley graduate Scott Ryan; Lake Mary graduate Brian Gross; and current Lake Mary High senior Nick Battillo. Renee Grubbs, Coach E’s wife, was the team mom.
“We are typically outmatched in size and speed,” Coach E says. “The whole reason our program thrives is because it’s not just about football. We’re teaching these kids life lessons and the importance of having a strong faith. We teach a lot of lessons that don’t have anything to do with the game of football.”
Lake Mary’s coaches started teaching those lessons back in August, when the Rams had their first practice of the season. The players learned about strength, courage, and honor. They learned to work hard and play as a team. And, as Coach E told them, they learned to never wait to be great.
“I’m humbled to have been a part of something that I think, in their lives, will prove to be unforgettable,” Coach E says. “I don’t think they will realize what they accomplished until years later when they look back. It was really amazing.”
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